Ontario’s school students were supposed to be going back to in-person learning on Monday, but Mother Nature had other ideas. This probably came as a relief to parents, young people, teachers and other school staff who now have an extra day to psych themselves up, which makes you think again about the mental health cost of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Monday, Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner was thinking about it too.
“As kids head back to in class learning this week, student mental health must be a top priority. The past two years of uncertainty and isolation have been so hard on our young people,” Schreiner said in a virtual press conference. “Youth rates of depression, anxiety and eating disorders are sadly increasing. The public health crisis has presented an unprecedented experience for our youth, seeing loved ones get sick, or losing their lives in some cases, to the virus, the fear of bringing the virus home or getting sick themselves.”
To combat this, Schreiner is calling on the Government of Ontario to expand 24/7 crisis hotlines, texting and live chats; to expand youth wellness hubs; to invest in mental health supports that can be located close to schools and can be integrated with community mental health supports; and to increase funding to community child and youth mental health services by $150 million per year in line with recommendations from Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO).
“Unfortunately, wait times for access to youth mental health services have gotten worse under the Ford government,” Schreiner explained. “For years, we have called out the government for penny-pinching on youth mental health care. The $1.9 billion from both the federal and provincial governments over 10 years for the province’s entire mental health plan was not enough pre-pandemic to address the need, and it certainly isn’t enough given the mental health crisis that is increasing because of the pandemic.”
Crises are compounding, especially in healthcare right now as the focus on fighting COVID is creating a myriad of delays on other hospital procedures. On Friday, Guelph General Hospital initiated a Code Orange because their oxygen tank was low and their early warning system did not go off. Guelph Today also reported Friday that the Hospital is cancelling between 45 and 55 procedures in order to have the available resources to fight the rise in Omicron cases.
“We need to be shoring up our healthcare system and, in particular, we need to be addressing the health human resource capacity issues Ontario’s facing, especially the shortage of nurses,” Schreiner said.
Schreiner again called for the repeal of Bill 124, the legislation that caps the increase of pay to public service workers to one per cent per year, and he voiced his support for the accreditation of internationally trained nurses, which was announced by the Minister of Health last week. He also noted that there’s a mental health pressure on nurses and other frontline medical staff that needs to be addressed.
“It’s not only about paying nurses what they deserve, but it’s also ensuring that they have the full compensation package to access supports like mental health supports,” Schreiner said. “We need more bed capacity, more fiscal capacity within our hospitals, but if you don’t have the staff and the people to services those beds, then Ontarians are not going to get the care they need.”
In other health news, the Government of Ontario announced Monday morning that Minister of Legislative Affairs and Government House Leader Paul Calandra would be succeeding Rod Phillips as the Long-Term Care Minister while holding on to his other cabinet positions. Phillips resigned suddenly on Friday, and while Schreiner noted that he called on the government to act swiftly to replace Phillips, he added that long-term care residents needs a minister who can focus exclusively on their needs.
“We have a crisis, so we need somebody who’s completely focused on making sure our elders are protected,” Schreiner said. “I’ve had so many phone calls with constituents over the last couple of weeks, and the one that really sits with me is this woman who lost her grandmother to COVID on January 10. The challenges the family faced in terms of making sure her grandmother had a booster shot, making sure her grandmother had the care and support she needed, and I know that story is being played out in so many families across the province right now.”
“We need the government to do more, and we need the government to do better,” Schreiner added.